CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Though their mother churches split more than 1,500 years ago, a group of believers representing one of Christianity's oldest sects now has a permanent place of worship, thanks to a local Catholic church.
Monsignor Edward Sadie, rector of the Sacred Heart parish, loaned the seldom-used chapel in his church's Cordis Center to a local congregation of Coptic Orthodox Christians.
Until now, the congregation has held prayer services every other week in members' homes. Dr. Albeir Mousa, 43, said he's thankful for Sadie and Sacred Heart because having a permanent place of worship will help attract new members to their church.
"We need people to know who we are. This will help," Mousa said.
The St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church will hold its first service at the Cordis Center at 6 p.m. today to mark the Christmas holiday.
Coptic holidays are set according to the Julian calendar, which runs 13 days ahead of the Gregorian calendar used in Western churches. So instead of Dec. 25, Copts celebrate Jesus' birth on Jan. 7.
While the word "Coptic" can be used to refer to any Christian denomination from Egypt, most (including the small congregation here in Charleston) are aligned with the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. That church is more than 1,900 years old and is believed to have been founded by the Apostle Mark a few decades after Jesus' death.
Sadie said he and Bishop Michael Bransfield were happy to help the St. Mary's congregation because they provide a link to Christianity's earliest years.
"Their worship is ancient. Their liturgies are ancient," he said. "I'm just delighted I can be a help to them.
"I think it's important the Coptics feel welcome in our community."
El Komos Ghoubrial, a priest from New Jersey, will lead tonight's Christmas service because St. Mary's does not have a priest of its own.
The service will include traditional hymns, which are quite different from those heard in Western churches. Coptic hymns are rooted in Eastern music traditions, not the rigid scale structures of European music. They also are accompanied only by percussion instruments like cymbals and triangles.
Mousa said the Christmas service would include very familiar readings from the New Testament, including the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, where wise men visit Bethlehem to present gifts to the baby Jesus.